EP2276034B1 - Self-referenced magnetic random access memory cell - Google Patents

Self-referenced magnetic random access memory cell Download PDF

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EP2276034B1
EP2276034B1 EP10168729.1A EP10168729A EP2276034B1 EP 2276034 B1 EP2276034 B1 EP 2276034B1 EP 10168729 A EP10168729 A EP 10168729A EP 2276034 B1 EP2276034 B1 EP 2276034B1
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field
current
magnetization
read
magnetic
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French (fr)
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EP2276034A2 (en
EP2276034A3 (en
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Neal Berger
Jean-Pierre Nozières
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Crocus Technology SA
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Crocus Technology SA
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    • GPHYSICS
    • G11INFORMATION STORAGE
    • G11CSTATIC STORES
    • G11C11/00Digital stores characterised by the use of particular electric or magnetic storage elements; Storage elements therefor
    • G11C11/02Digital stores characterised by the use of particular electric or magnetic storage elements; Storage elements therefor using magnetic elements
    • G11C11/16Digital stores characterised by the use of particular electric or magnetic storage elements; Storage elements therefor using magnetic elements using elements in which the storage effect is based on magnetic spin effect
    • G11C11/165Auxiliary circuits
    • G11C11/1675Writing or programming circuits or methods
    • GPHYSICS
    • G11INFORMATION STORAGE
    • G11CSTATIC STORES
    • G11C11/00Digital stores characterised by the use of particular electric or magnetic storage elements; Storage elements therefor
    • G11C11/02Digital stores characterised by the use of particular electric or magnetic storage elements; Storage elements therefor using magnetic elements
    • G11C11/16Digital stores characterised by the use of particular electric or magnetic storage elements; Storage elements therefor using magnetic elements using elements in which the storage effect is based on magnetic spin effect
    • GPHYSICS
    • G11INFORMATION STORAGE
    • G11CSTATIC STORES
    • G11C11/00Digital stores characterised by the use of particular electric or magnetic storage elements; Storage elements therefor
    • G11C11/02Digital stores characterised by the use of particular electric or magnetic storage elements; Storage elements therefor using magnetic elements
    • G11C11/16Digital stores characterised by the use of particular electric or magnetic storage elements; Storage elements therefor using magnetic elements using elements in which the storage effect is based on magnetic spin effect
    • G11C11/165Auxiliary circuits
    • G11C11/1673Reading or sensing circuits or methods

Description

    Field
  • The present invention concerns magnetic random access memory (MRAM) based cells using a self-referenced read operation.
  • Background
  • In the simplest implementation, magnetic random access memory (MRAM) cells comprise at least a magnetic tunnel junction formed of two magnetic layers separated by a thin insulating layer, where one of the layer, the so-called reference layer, is characterized by a fixed magnetization and the second layer, the so-called storage layer, is characterized by a magnetization which direction can be changed upon writing of the memory. When the respective magnetizations of the reference layers and the storage layer are antiparallel, the resistance of the magnetic tunnel junction is high (Rmax), corresponding to a low logic state "0". On the other hand, when the respective magnetizations are parallel, the resistance of the magnetic tunnel junction becomes low (Rmin), corresponding to a low logic state "1". The logic state of the MRAM cell is read by comparing its resistance state to a reference resistance Rref, preferably derived from a reference cell or an array of reference cells, with a reference resistance of typically Rref = (Rmin+Rmax)/2, combined in-between the magnetic tunnel junction resistance of the high logic state "1" and the resistance of the low logic state "0".
  • In conventional practical implementations, the reference layer is "exchange biased" to an adjacent antiferromagnetic reference layer characterized by a critical temperature (above which the exchange bias vanishes) known as the blocking temperature TBR of the antiferromagnetic reference layer.
  • In an implementation of the MRAM cell using a thermally assisted switching (TAS) procedure, for example as described in U.S. Patent No. 6,950,335 , the storage layer is also exchange biased to an adjacent antiferromagnetic storage layer which blocking temperature TBS (the temperature at which the exchange bias of the antiferromagnetic storage layer vanishes) is lower than that the blocking temperature TBR of the antiferromagnetic reference layer pinning the reference layer. Below the blocking temperature TBS, the storage layer is difficult and/or impossible to write. Writing is then performed by heating the magnetic tunnel junction above TBS but below TBR, preferably but not limited to by sending a heating current through the magnetic tunnel junction, in order to free the magnetization of the storage layer, while simultaneously applying means of switching the magnetization of the storage layer. The latter can be performed either by a magnetic field, generated by a field current, or by the so-called spin transfer torque (STT) effect, where a spin transfer torque current, in which the spin is polarized, is passed through the magnetic tunnel junction. The magnetic tunnel junction is then cooled down below the blocking temperature TBS, where the storage layer magnetization is "frozen" in the written direction.
  • The magnetic field magnitude required to switch the magnetization direction of the storage layer is proportional to the coercivity of the storage layer, which is large at small feature sizes and can be greatly enhanced in exchange biased films. In the other hand, the spin torque current must be lower than the heating current, therefore forcing the use of high heating currents, since the magnitude of spin torque current is large in TAS-MRAM cells (>1MA/cm2).
  • Moreover, in the current implementation of the TAS-MRAM cell described above, the write operating temperature window defined by TBR - TBS is typically small. Indeed, a blocking temperature TBR up to about 350°C can be attained when the antiferromagnetic reference layer is made of a NiMn-based alloy, while a blocking temperature TBS ranging typically between 150°C and 200°C is achieved when the antiferromagnetic storage layer is made of an IrMn-based alloy or a FeMn-based alloy, respectively.
  • In the case of a magnetic memory device formed by assembling an array comprising a plurality of memory TAS-MRAM cells, the properties of the individual cells across the array may vary due to fabrication process fluctuations. This can result in a distribution of the blocking temperatures TBR and TBS for the array amounting to typically up to about ±30°C, further reducing the writing operating temperature window. These variations can also impact directly on the resistance of the magnetic tunnel junctions of the different MRAM cells, therein reducing the difference between the measured magnetic tunnel junction resistance and the reference cell resistance, Rmin/max- Rref. Consequently, a tight process control is required in order to produce a memory device having a high performance and a high efficiency, impacting on production yield and/or costs.
  • Moreover, when the magnetic memory device is used in extreme environments, where local ambient temperatures in the vicinity of the cells can be high, using an antiferromagnetic storage layer having a blocking temperature TBS higher than 200°C can become necessary, further reducing the operating temperature window. Such high local temperatures can also be caused, alone or in addition to high ambient temperatures, by local current-induced heat transfer in the magnetic memory device itself or in a neighbouring magnetic memory device. Consequently, the above implementation may limit applications of the memory device in environments such as spatial, military, automotive, etc.
  • A high ambient local temperature can also result in a heating temperature that exceeds TBR during the writing procedure, resulting in freeing the magnetization of the reference layer and thus, erasing the cell data. In order to avoid this situation, a temperature controller is typically introduced within the circuit driving the heating current in order to account for ambient and /or local temperature fluctuations.
  • Finally, the speed of the writing procedure mostly depends on the speed at which the magnetic tunnel junction of the TAS-MRAM cell can be heated. Here, the more power sent into the magnetic tunnel junction the faster the heating, since high power heating is performed in adiabatic conditions instead of dissipative conditions. However, in conventional implementations of the TAS-MRAM cell, the heating speed is limited by possible overshooting the temperature above TBR when a high power is sent into the magnetic tunnel junction.
  • WO2005069305 concerns a tunneling magnetoresistive element comprising a storage layer, a sense layer and a barrier layer, and a method of reading a logical state of the element. The storage layer is configured such that its magnetization direction will switch in response to an externally applied magnetic field having a first threshold strength. The sense layer is configured such that its magnetization direction will switch in response to an externally applied magnetic field having a second threshold strength being less than the first threshold strength.
  • US20040218441 discloses a memory cell array memory cells with a magnetoresistive effect having a hard-magnetic memory layer and a soft-magnetic sensor layer. The magnetization axis of the hard-magnetic layer lies parallel to the line connected thereto, and the magnetization axis lies parallel to the line connected thereto. By an AC voltage or AC current source, a voltage or current signal is impressed on a respective selected line.
  • US20030081475 discloses a method and a circuit configuration for evaluating an information content of an MRAM memory cell. A first current value flowing through the memory cell is measured and conducted through a first circuit branch, which is buffer-stored. The memory cell is subsequently subjected to a programming operation. Afterward, a second current value is measured and conducted through a second circuit branch that is buffer-stored there. The two measured values are compared with one another in an evaluation unit.
  • WO2008040561 describes a content-addressable random access memory having magnetic tunnel junction-based memory cells and methods for making and using same, and US7203089 concerns an MRAM cell comprising a magnetic metal layer and a magnetic sensing device wherein the magnetic metal layer can be used to both program and read the cell, eliminating the need for a second current lien in the cell.
  • Summary
  • The present application discloses a method for writing and reading a magnetic random access memory cell according to claim 1 which overcome at least some limitations of the prior art.
  • The disclosed memory cell and method allow for using a small read field current and thus for performing the write and read operations with low power consumption and an increased speed. The magnetic memory cell and device can be advantageously used in applications such as automotive and spatial/military where local ambient temperatures in the vicinity of the memory can be high.
  • Brief Description of the Drawings
  • The preferred embodiments will be better understood with the aid of the description of an embodiment given by way of example and illustrated by the figures, in which:
    • Fig. 1 shows a magnetic random access memory (MRAM) cell, according to an embodiment;
    • Fig. 2 shows the MRAM according to another embodiment; and
    • Fig. 3 illustrates a circuit for performing a read operation in the MRAM cell, according to an embodiment.
    Detailed Description of the Preferred Embodiments
  • A magnetic random access memory (MRAM) cell 1 according to an embodiment is represented in Fig. 1. The MRAM cell 1 comprises a magnetic tunnel junction 2 formed from a sense layer 21, a storage layer 23, and an insulating layer 22 being disposed between the sense and storage magnetic layers 21, 23. The MRAM cell further comprises a field line 4 in communication with the magnetic tunnel junction 2, and a current line 7 electrically connected to the magnetic tunnel junction 2. In the example of Fig. 1, the current line 7 represented connected to the magnetic tunnel junction 2 on the side of the sense layer 21 and perpendicular to the field line 4. Other configurations of the current line 4 and current line 7 are however possible. For example, the field line 4 can be placed below the magnetic tunnel junction 2 and the storage layer 23 can be in contact with the current line 7. In the example of Fig. 1, the MRAM cell 1 also comprises a CMOS selection transistor 3 electrically coupled with said magnetic tunnel junction 2, for example, on the side of the storage layer 23 and being selectable by a word line 6 to address each MRAM cell 1 individually by passing a current through the magnetic tunnel junction 2.
  • Preferably, the storage layer 23 is made of a hard ferromagnetic material while the sense layer 21 is made of a low coercivity, soft ferromagnetic material. The ferromagnetic materials include typically iron, cobalt nickel or their alloys. Preferably, the insulating layer 22 is a thin layer, typically in the nanometer range and is formed, for example, from any suitable insulating material, such as alumina or magnesium oxide.
  • In an embodiment, the storage layer 23 has a magnetization that can be switched from a first stable direction to a second stable direction. In the example of Fig. 1, this is performed by pinning the storage layer 23 by an antiferromagnetic storage layer 24 comprised in the magnetic tunnel junction 2. More particularly, the antiferromagnetic storage layer 24, preferably placed adjacent to the storage layer 23, exchange biases, or pins, the magnetization of the storage layer 23 when a temperature within the antiferromagnetic layer 24 is lower than a blocking temperature TBS of the antiferromagnetic storage layer 24. The antiferromagnetic layer 24 unpins, or frees, the magnetization of the storage layer 23 when the temperature is above the blocking temperature TBS. In contrast, the sense layer 21 is not exchange biased and its magnetization has a direction that can be varied freely, for example, due to thermal agitation and thus, its magnetization can be freely aligned in a magnetic field.
  • During a thermally assisted switching (TAS) write operation of the MRAM cell 1, the magnetic tunnel junction 2 is heated by applying a heating current 31 through the magnetic tunnel junction 2 via the current line 7, when the selection transistor 3 is in a passing mode. The magnetic tunnel junction 2 can be heated to a high temperature threshold lying above the blocking temperature TBS, for example above 120°C, where the exchange coupling between the antiferromagnetic layer 24 and the storage layer 23 disappears and the magnetization of the storage layer 23, being no more pinned, can be freely adjusted. Simultaneously or after a short time delay, once the magnetic tunnel junction 2 has reached the high temperature threshold, a moderate switching field current 41 is passed through the field line 4. The switching field current 41 induces a switching magnetic field 42 able to switch the magnetization of the storage layer 23 according to the switching magnetic field 42, to write a write data to the storage layer 23. At the high threshold temperature the magnetization of the storage layer 23 can be freely adjusted, facilitating the switching operation.
  • After the temperature of the magnetic tunnel junction 2 has reached the high temperature threshold, the selection transistor 3 can be deselected (or set in a blocked mode) to inhibit the heating current 31 from being applied to said magnetic tunnel junction 2, and cooling the magnetic tunnel junction 2. The switching field current 42 can be maintained during the cooling of the magnetic tunnel junction 2 and switched off once the magnetic tunnel junction 2 has reached a low temperature threshold, lying below the blocking temperature TBS of the antiferromagnetic layer 24, where the magnetization of the storage layer 23 is frozen in the written state. Since the magnetization of the storage layer 23 is exchange biased by the antiferromagnetic layer 24 at the low temperature threshold, its orientation is not subject to thermal fluctuation and is stable in time retaining the written data.
  • Other arrangement of the storage layer 23 are possible such that its magnetization that can be switched from the first stable direction to the second stable direction. In another embodiment not represented, the magnetic tunnel junction 2 has an anisotropic shape with high aspect ratios, for example, 1.5 or more. In such an anisotropic-shaped magnetic tunnel junction 2, the write data can be written to the storage layer 23 by switching the magnetization of the storage layer 23 from the first stable direction to the second stable direction without requiring using the antiferromagnetic layer 24 and/or the TAS writing operation described above. The high aspect ratio of the magnetic tunnel junction 2 provides a good thermal and/or temporal stability of the storage layer magnetization and thus of the written write data. On the other hand, the switching magnetic field 42 required to switch the magnetization of the storage layer 23 from the first stable direction to the second opposed stable direction is significant and therefore the power consumed during the write operation can be large.
  • In yet another embodiment, the write operation of the MRAM cell 1 is performed by passing a write current 43 through the magnetic tunnel junction 2 via the current line 7 when the selection transistor 3 is in a passing mode, using a so-called "spin transfer torque" (STT) effect. In this STT-based write operation, the write current 43 can become spin polarized by passing through the sense layer 21, according to the flow direction of the write current 43. The polarized spins of the write current 43 passing through the storage layer 23 are then in majority oriented along the magnetization direction of the sense layer 21, and are able to switch the magnetization of the storage layer 23 accordingly for sufficient amplitude of the spin-polarized the write current 43. A write operation of a MRAM cell based on a spin-polarized write current is described in U.S. Patents No. 7,332,781 and No. 7,129,555 .
  • Alternatively, the write current 43 can become spin polarized when passing through a polarizing magnetic layer (not shown). In this case, the polarized spins of the write current 43 passing through the storage layer 23 are in majority oriented along the magnetization direction of the polarizing magnetic layer, and are able to switch the magnetization of the storage layer 23 accordingly.
  • In another variant of the embodiment shown in Fig. 1, switching of the storage layer magnetization using the STT-based write operation can be thermally assisted as described above. More particularly, in the case the storage layer 23 is exchanged-biased by the antiferromagnetic layer 24, switching the storage layer magnetization with the spin-polarized write current 43 can be combined with the TAS write operation. Here, during the write operation, the magnetic tunnel junction 2 is heated by passing the heating current 31 through the junction 2 via the current line 7 when the selection transistor 3 is in the passing mode. The spin-polarized write current 43 is provided in the magnetic tunnel junction 2 simultaneously or after a short time delay, once the magnetic tunnel junction 2 has reached the high temperature threshold. The TAS write operation can improve the stability of the storage layer magnetization in the written state.
  • Advantageously, the spin-polarized write current 43 required for switching the magnetization of the storage layer 23 depends on the magnetic anisotropy of the magnetic tunnel junction 2. In particular, the magnitude of the spin-polarized current 43 is independent from the size and shape of the magnetic tunnel junction 2, and thus its magnitude remains constant when the size of the magnetic tunnel junction 2 decreases. In contrast, the switching magnetic field 42 is an extrinsic property of the magnetic tunnel junction material, and thus dependent on the geometry of the magnetic tunnel junction 2 and on possible presence of defects in the magnetic tunnel junction 2. Moreover, the magnitude of the switching field current 41, and thus power consumption, increases as the size of the magnetic tunnel junction 2 decreases.
  • In a preferred embodiment represented in Fig. 2, the write operation is performed by passing a saturation field current 41' in the field line 4 to induce a saturation magnetic field 42' capable of saturating the magnetization of the sense layer 21 in a direction according to the induced saturation magnetic field 42'. The saturated sense layer 21 induces in turn a local magnetic stray field 55 coupling with the storage layer 23 in a closed magnetic flux configuration. The magnetization of the storage layer 23 is then switched in accordance with said local magnetic field 55 from a first stable direction to a second stable direction. Due to the small distance between the storage layer 23 and the sense layers 21, typically in the nanometer range, the magnetic coupling between the sense layer 21 and the storage layer 23 is far more efficient than the magnetic coupling between the field line 4 and the storage layer 23 in the case the write operation is based on the switching field current 41. Moreover, the material of the sense layer 21 can be chosen to minimize the magnetic field required to switch the magnetization of the sense layer 21.
  • During a read operation of the MRAM-based cell 1, in a first read cycle, a field current, here a first read field current 51 having a first polarity, is passed through the field line 4. The first read field current 51 induces a magnetic field, here a first read magnetic field 52, capable of aligning the magnetization of the sense layer 21 in a first aligned magnetization direction, according to the first polarity of the read field current 51. In the MRAM cell configuration of Fig. 1, the sense layer 21 is not exchange-biased and its magnetization can be freely aligned in the magnetic field 51. For example, there is no need to heat the junction 2 to facilitate the switching of the sense layer magnetization.
  • The first aligned magnetization direction of the sense layer 21 is then compared with the write data, or the switched magnetization of the storage layer 23, by passing a sense current 32 though the magnetic tunnel junction 2 via the current line 7, when the selection transistor 3 is in the passing mode. Measuring a voltage across the magnetic tunnel junction 2 when the sense current 32 is passed yields a corresponding first resistance value R1 of the magnetic tunnel junction 2. In the case the magnetization of the sense layer 21 is aligned substantially parallel to the magnetization direction of the storage layer 23, the first resistance value R1 is small (R1 = Rmin). On the other hand, in the case the magnetization of the sense layer 21 is aligned substantially antiparallel to the magnetization direction of the storage layer 23, the measured first resistance value is high (R1 = Rmax). The write data written in the MRAM cell 1 can then be determined by comparing the first resistance value R1 to a reference resistance Rref from a reference cell (not shown) or from a group of reference cells (also not shown), where the reference resistance Rref has a resistance typically halfway between the low and high first resistance values Rmin and Rmax..
  • Since the magnetization of the sense layer 21 can be freely aligned, the first read field current 51 required to align the sense layer magnetization can be much lower than the switching field current 41, or saturation field current 41', used to switch the magnetization of the storage layer 23. Moreover, since the read operation is performed at a temperature at which the magnetization of the storage layer 23 is stable, for example being exchange biased by the antiferromagnetic layer 24, the switching of the storage layer 23 by the first read field current 51 during the read operation is unlikely.
  • In another embodiment, the read operation of the MRAM-based cell 1, further comprises a second read cycle including providing a second read field current 51' to the field line 4, the second read field current 51' having a second polarity opposed to the first polarity. The second read field current 51' induces a second reading magnetic field 52' capable of aligning the magnetization of the sense layer 21 in a second aligned magnetization direction, in accordance with said second polarity of said second read field current 51'.
  • The second aligned magnetization of the sense layer 21 is then compared with the write data by passing the sense current 32 though the magnetic current junction 2, via the current line 7, when the selection transistor 3 is in the passing mode. Measuring a voltage across the magnetic tunnel junction 2 when the sense current 32 is passed through the magnetic tunnel junction 2 yields a corresponding second resistance value R2 of the magnetic tunnel junction 2.
  • Fig. 3 shows a circuit 8 for performing the read operation and comprises a source transistor P1 and a mirror transistor P3. The source transistor P1 is capable of sourcing the sense current 32 when the first or second read field current 51, 51' is passed in the field line 4 during the first or second read cycle of the read operation. The circuit 8 further comprises a sample/hold (S/H) circuit 9 to store a measured magnetic tunnel junction resistance value. For example, after the measured current value corresponding to the first resistance value R1 can be stored in the S/H circuit 9 and mirrored to the mirror transistor P3. Also shown in Fig. 3 is a current mirror comprising transistors P2, N1, and N2. The transistors P2 and N1 mirror a current to transistor N2, which sinks a current substantially equal to the sense current 32. An output stage 10 drives an output current (not shown) which corresponds substantially to the difference between the magnetoresistance ΔR. The output current can be amplified by an amplifier (not shown) to generate a digital data output.
  • The write data written in the MRAM cell 1 can then be determined by a difference between the second resistance value R2, and the first resistance value R1 measured in the first read cycle and possibly stored in the S/H circuit 9. The difference between the first and second resistance values R1, R2, is also called magnetic tunnel magnetoresistance or magnetoresistance ΔR. For example, in the case the write data has a logic state of "1", if the first read cycle of the read operation is performed with the first read field current 51 having a logic state of "0", the measured first resistance value is low (R1 = Rmin). Conversely, if the second read cycle of the read operation is performed with the second read field current 51' having a logic state of "1", the measured second resistance value is high (R1 = Rmax). Therefore, the difference between the stored first resistance value R1 and the second resistance value R2 yields a negative magnetoresistance ΔR. In the contrary, a positive magnetoresistance ΔR is obtained for a write data of "0" and the same read operation sequence as above. The read operation comprising the first and second read cycles is also called self-referenced since the use of the reference cell is not required.
  • Alternatively, the first and second resistance values R1, R2 can be determined by applying a voltage bias across the magnetic tunnel junction 2 and measuring the corresponding current.
  • In yet another embodiment (not represented), the first read field current 51 has an alternating polarity and induces an alternating magnetic field aligning the magnetization of the sense layer 21 alternatively, in accordance to the alternating polarity of the first read field current 51. Preferably, the alternating first read field current 51 aligns alternatively the magnetization of the sense layer 21 without switching completely its magnetization. Here, the measured first resistance value R1 varies alternatively with the varying magnetization of the sense layer 21. The data written in the MRAM cell 1 can be determined by comparing the varying first resistance value R1 with the alternating first read field current 51. For example, if the write data has a logic state of "1", corresponding to the magnetization of the sense layer 21 being aligned respectively antiparallel and parallel with the magnetization of the storage layer 23, the measured varying first resistance value R1 is in phase with the alternating first read field current 51. Conversely, the measured varying first resistance value R1 is out of phase with the alternating first read field current 51 when the write data has a logic state "0", corresponding to the magnetization of the sense layer 21 being aligned respectively parallel and antiparallel with the magnetization of the storage layer 23.
  • In an embodiment, a magnetic memory device comprises a plurality of the MRAM cells 1 disclosed herein, for example arranged in rows and columns. The magnetic memory device can comprise a device package in which the MRAM cells 1 are disposed. In the magnetic memory device, the field line 4 can be arranged such as to be in communication with the magnetic tunnel junction 2 of the MRAM cells 1 in a row, and the current line 7 electrically connected to the magnetic tunnel junction 2 of the MRAM cells 1 in a column. Since the read operation does not require the use of a reference cell, the reading margin of the memory device is less sensitive to an MRAM cell width dispersion than in memory devices comprising conventional MRAM cells, and larger arrays can be used.
  • The disclosure is susceptible to various modifications and alternative forms, and specific examples thereof have been shown by way of example in the drawings and are herein described in detail. It should be understood, however, that the disclosure is not to be limited to the particular forms or methods disclosed, but to the contrary, the disclosure is to cover all modifications, equivalents, and alternatives.
  • For example, in an embodiment not represented, the storage layer 23 has a magnetocrystalline anisotropy that is oriented substantially perpendicularly to the magnetocrystalline anisotropy of the sense layer 21. In such arrangement, prior to the write and read operations, the sense layer 21 has a magnetization that is oriented substantially perpendicular to the one of the storage layer 23. This arrangement is advantageous, since the first and/or second read magnetic field 51, 51' with a small amplitude is able to induce a linear variation in the first and/or second resistance values R1, R2, allowing for determining the magnetoresistance ΔR from small voltage variations, or small variations of first and/or second resistance values R1, R2. Consequently, using the first and/or second read field currents 51, 51' with an alternating polarity allows for using smaller read field current amplitudes than when the polarity is not alternating, since the direction of the magnetization of the sense layer 21 needs only to be switched partially in order to obtain a readout signal. Furthermore, using smaller read field current amplitudes allows for increased speed of the reading procedure.
  • The MRAM cell 1 does not require aligning the magnetization of the sense layer 21 during the manufacturing process, as it is usual with conventional MRAM cells where the sense layer 21 remains aligned throughout the life of the memory cell. In the MRAM cell 1, the magnetization direction of the sense layer 21 can vary freely and is aligned only during the read operation. Therefore, the sense layer 21 can be optimized for the read operation. For example, the sense layer 21 can have a low coercivity and a high magnetoresistance ΔR. The first and/or second read field currents 51, 51' can also be minimized by using a material that has a very low switching field for the sense layer 21.
  • Moreover, the magnetic tunnel junction 2 can be optimized to favor parameters such as process control, write power, etc., without compromising the read margin. For example, the insulating layer 22 can be made of Al2O3 instead of MgO in order to make it easier to manufacture. The storage layer 23 and/or the sense layer 21 can be made of NiFe-based alloys instead of CoFeB-based alloys in order to obtain a lower switching field.
  • Furthermore, since the magnetization of the sense layer 21 is not pinned, the temperature at which the magnetic tunnel junction 2 can be heated is only limited upward by possible irreversible structural changes in the magnetic layers of the junction 2, such as layers interdiffusion (typically occurring around 400°C). In the case of the TAS-based read operation, the heating current 31 can be controlled only to heat the magnetic tunnel junction 2 at a temperature that is above the blocking temperature TBS of the antiferromagnetic layer 24, and controlling the magnetic tunnel junction 2 for ambient temperature fluctuations is not required. Consequently, a high heating current 31 can be used in adiabatic regime without the risk of a temperature overshoot if the heating current pulse duration is too long. This adiabatic regime is much faster than a diffusive regime, allowing, for example, to use a heating current pulse 31 having duration of a few nanoseconds, compared to more than10ns in the case of conventional TAS-MRAM cells. This is advantageous in SRAM-like or DRAM-like applications.
  • Reference Numbers and Symbols
  • 1
    magnetic random access memory (MRAM) cell
    2
    magnetic tunnel junction
    21
    sense layer
    22
    insulating layer
    23
    storage layer
    24
    antiferromagnetic layer
    3
    selection transistor
    31
    heating current
    32
    sense current
    4
    field line
    41
    switching field current
    41'
    saturation field current
    42
    switching magnetic field
    42'
    saturation magnetic field
    43
    spin polarized write current
    51
    first read field current
    52
    first read magnetic field
    51'
    second read field current
    52'
    second read magnetic field
    55
    local magnetic field
    6
    word line
    7
    current line
    8
    circuit
    9
    sample/hold (S/H) circuit
    10
    output stage
    P1
    source transistor
    P3
    mirror transistor
    N2
    sink transistor
    R1
    first resistance value of the magnetic tunnel junction
    R2
    second resistance value of the magnetic tunnel junction
    Rmin
    low resistance of the magnetic tunnel junction
    Rmax
    high resistance of the magnetic tunnel junction
    Rref
    reference resistance
    ΔR
    magnetoresistance
    TBR
    blocking temperature of the antiferromagnetic reference layer
    TBS
    blocking temperature of the antiferromagnetic layer

Claims (7)

  1. A method for writing and reading a magnetic random access memory (MRAM) cell (1) comprising a magnetic tunnel junction (2) formed from a sense layer (21) having a magnetization direction that can be freely aligned, a storage layer (23) having a magnetization direction that can be switched when the magnetic tunnel junction is heated to a high temperature threshold and that is pinned when the magnetic tunnel junction is at a low temperature threshold, and an instating layer (22) being disposed between the sense and the storage layers; a field line (4) in communication with the magnetic tunnel junction; and a current line (7) electrically connected to the magnetic tunnel junction the method comprising the steps of:
    during a read operation,
    providing a first read field current (51) to the field line (4)
    inducing a first read magnetic field (52) such as to align the magnetization of said sense layer (21) in a first aligned direction in accordance to a first polarity of the first read magnetic field (52); and
    comparing said write data with said first aligned direction by measuring a first resistance value of said magnetic tunnel junction (2); and
    providing a second read field current (51') to the field line (4);
    inducing a second read magnetic field (52') such as to align the magnetization of the sense layer in a second aligned direction in accordance to a second polarity of the second read magnetic field (52');
    comparing said write data with said second aligned direction by measuring a second resistance value of said magnetic tunnel junction (2);
    determining a difference between the first resistance value and the second resistance value.
    the method characterized in that it comprises the further steps of:
    during a write operation,
    passing a saturation field current (41') in the field line to induce a saturation magnetic field (42');
    saturating the magnetization of the sense layer in a direction according to the induced saturation magnetic field for inducing a local magnetic stray field (55); and
    switching said magnetization of said storage layer according to the local magnetic stray field.
  2. The method according to claim 1, wherein
    said first read field current (51) has an alternating polarity inducing an alternating first read magnetic field.
  3. The method according to any of the claims from 1 to 2,
    wherein
    said cell (1) further comprises a sample/hold circuit (9), and wherein the first resistance value determined during the first read operation is stored in the sample/hold circuit (9).
  4. The method according to any of the claims 1 to 3, wherein
    said aligning the magnetization of said sense layer (21) in a second aligned magnetization direction comprises, providing a second read field current (51') to the field line (4) inducing a second read magnetic field (52'), said second aligned direction being aligned in accordance to a second polarity of the second read magnetic field (52') opposed to said first polarity.
  5. The method according to any of the claims from 1 to 4,
    wherein
    said measuring a first or second resistance value comprises passing a sense current (32) in the current line (7).
  6. The method according to any of the claims from 1 to 5,
    wherein
    said switching magnetization direction of said storage layer (23) comprises providing a switching field current (41) in the field line (4) inducing a switching magnetic field (42), the magnetization of the storage layer (23) being switched according to the switching magnetic field (42).
  7. The method according to any of the claims from 1 to 5,
    wherein
    said switching magnetization direction of said storage layer (23) comprises passing a spin polarized write current (43) through said magnetic tunnel junction (2) via the current line (7).
EP10168729.1A 2009-07-13 2010-07-07 Self-referenced magnetic random access memory cell Active EP2276034B1 (en)

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US9679626B2 (en) 2017-06-13
EP2276034A3 (en) 2011-04-20
EP2276034A2 (en) 2011-01-19
US20140269042A1 (en) 2014-09-18
US8824202B2 (en) 2014-09-02
US20110007561A1 (en) 2011-01-13
JP5612385B2 (en) 2014-10-22
JP2011023100A (en) 2011-02-03

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